Thursday, December 22, 2016

Reflecting On Our History


As we turn the page on 2016, Imagination Theater is also turning the page on 50 years of participatory, social issues theater.

I’m fortunate enough to have worked with Imagination Theater for the last decade of the company’s first fifty years.  I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities for personal and professional growth that have been afforded to me in that time, but I’m far more grateful for our extraordinary output of interactive workshops and performances.

When I began my journey with Imagination Theater I was particularly drawn to the forum scenes that concluded nearly every performance.  This is a unique opportunity for an audience member to share a story about a time they've personally struggled, or witnessed others struggle, with issues relating to the show's theme.  The cast quickly dramatizes their scenario and then the facilitator freezes the action and leads a discussion as to how the conflict could have been resolved or avoided altogether.  It’s incredible to see what happens when a community stands outside itself and watches as their conflicts play out on stage.  Suddenly it’s not as hard to collaboratively seek solutions.  That’s the strength of Imagination Theater: creating opportunities for communities to problem solve together.

In my second year with Imagination Theater, I was convinced that this format which helps students demonstrate respect directly to their peers could also foster respect indirectly to whole populations by exploring environmental stewardship.  The staff and ensemble was incredibly supportive as I wrote and workshopped Go Green.  The goal of the show wasn’t to lecture or instruct, but to help students spot opportunities to reduce, reuse, and recycle in their daily life.  After one show, I heard a young student tell another student that he didn’t need more than one towel to dry his hands.  After another show a student told me she wanted to always cut up plastic six pack rings so that turtles don’t get hurt.  While these realizations may seem small, I believe they are actually enormous, because they represent young people acknowledging their strength to impact their world and the knowledge that their actions have unseen consequences.

After I stepped into the role of Marketing Director, I had a chance to see how our format successfully provokes positive change in the workplace.  Thanks to a long term collaboration with Felicity Group, Imagination Theater brought a high volume of corporate diversity trainings to the east coast and even to the UK.  

For an entire year, I practically lived in Philadelphia while facilitating regular workshops.  The hours were long and the work was challenging, but the discoveries made were incredibly rewarding.  Workshops regularly concluded wth co-workers owning the ways in which their biases impact the whole organization and taking responsibility for keeping those biases in check.  One workshop in London opened up a great discussion about the world we make for our children based on our routine actions and choices at the office.

Facilitating a corporate workshop in Connecticut.

This season, I started a new adventure with Imagination Theater and became the artistic director.  It is a huge honor to hold this title for a company that has meant so much to me for so long.  I spent my first months under my new title collaborating with Judy Freedman, LCSW to create a new program on empathy skills for K-5; designing a program on civic debate to help high school students respect the opinions of others while asserting their own; working with the Ellen Cribbs to implement brand new scenes for our Children's Sexual Abuse Prevention Program; and rehearsing with some of the most passionate and committed actors in town.

As the days remaining in 2016 rapidly dwindle, I find myself looking back not just at the last year, but at my last ten years with Imagination Theater and at the last 50 years of our mission to provide diverse audiences with original, dynamic, participatory theatrical programming that enhances well-being and creates a more civil, safe society.

I’ve met some of my closest friends at Imagination Theater and witnessed, repeatedly, the transformative power of theater.  I am excited to step into 2017 and see what awaits in Imagination Theater’s next fifty years!  Our work will be as vital in the future as it has been in the past.

A cast performing Show Some Respect at a Chicagoland high school.

As always, you can learn more about Imagination Theater at

– Jeremy Schaefer, Artistic Director

No comments:

Post a Comment